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Buying a car online vs dealership in person

Which is better: Negotiating face-to-face at a dealership or surfing the web?

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Part of buying a new car is deciding where to shop for it. Though many people are resigned to visiting a dealership to work with salespeople and test drive vehicles, buying a car through an online marketplace is an increasingly popular choice. Both options have their benefits and drawbacks. Depending on your buying style, one might suit you better.

Buying a car online vs. at a dealership

The biggest difference between buying a car online versus going to the dealership is the shopping experience. Generally, you’ll likely choose to shop online if your priority is getting the best bargain. But if you prefer ease and getting through the process quickly, visiting a dealership may be your best bet.

When to go online

Buying your car online is a good choice if you like choosing from a variety of options and being confident you’re getting a good deal. You don’t even have to leave the house to narrow down your search. When you shop online for a car you can:

  • Compare prices. Look for cars of the same make, model and year as the ones you’re interested in buying and compare their prices from different sellers. This could also give you more bargaining power at a dealership. A couple of good places to start are the Canadian Black Book (for new & used cars) and CARFAX (for used cars only), both of which are popular go-to sources of information on the current Canadian market value of vehicles.
  • Filter your search. Narrow down your search by selecting a specific make, model, color, price range, and number of kilometres.
  • Research thoroughly. After finding out how much it costs to buy the car you want, factor in the cost of insurance, registration and any applicable taxes such as sales tax. Then develop a game plan for scoring a great deal on your car, whether you’re buying it used or new, by researching how to get the lowest rates from your seller.
  • Find more options. When buying from a dealership, your choices are limited to whatever is available on the lot. You have more choices when you go online and will still be able to view the car in person before you buy.

When to visit a dealership

If you don’t like doing online research or would prefer to talk face-to-face with someone about your options, making a trip to 1 or 2 car dealerships can help you compare your options. By going to a dealer you could benefit by:

  • Knowing specific prices. An internet search may only return average prices for the vehicle you’re interested in. By visiting a dealership, you can see the actual sticker price of the vehicle along with its features.
  • Talking to an expert. Salespeople know their business and should be able to help you find a vehicle in their inventory that suits your needs and give you information you may not know to ask for.
  • Comparing 2 or more dealers. Although it might take more time, you’ll be better off seeing the prices that several dealers are offering for the same vehicle(s).
  • Test drive different options. Even if you do some shopping online, it doesn’t mean that you can always figure out exactly what car you want. Visiting a dealer means that you can test drive different options and zero in on the car that’s right for you.
  • Build relationships. Building a trusted relationship between you and the salespeople you work with can’t be undervalued. If you plan on buying multiple cars down the road or want reliable service, having a dealership you trust and people you can count on – who also know your integrity as a buyer – can really come in handy when it’s time to buy again.

When both options make sense

The differences between shopping for a car online versus in person balance each other out. You may find the best option using both methods by taking time to compare cars and possible financing options online and then visiting a dealership with an exact plan for negotiating confidently with a salesperson.

Buying a car at a dealership? Watch out for extra costs

  • Vehicle preparation fee. Dealerships charge this fee to cover the cost of getting your car ready for delivery. You might not have to pay it, unless they’re going beyond a standard car wash.
  • Documentation fee. Most dealers charge this fee to cover the cost of processing the paperwork that comes with your new car. You can negotiate the price of this fee with the dealer.

Where can I buy a car online?

The benefits of shopping online can vary based on the website you’re using. Each one is different, and one might suit your needs more than another. Here are some sites to get you started on your journey towards finding the right vehicle:

  • AutoTrader.ca Millions of people visit AutoTrader.ca every month to buy and sell vehicles. In fact, the company claims to be the largest on-line community search engine for buying and selling vehicles in Canada. And its listings are not limited to cars alone. You can buy cars, sport utilities, mini-vans, watercraft, snowmobiles, motorcycles, heavy equipment, trucks, farm equipment, and even parts and accessories on this site. AutoTrader.ca makes it even easier to connect buyers and sellers with a mobile app designed for Androids, iPhones and iPads.
  • Unhaggle.com Unlike most sites where you can buy/sell cars, Unhaggle.com actually brings dealers to you with the guaranteed lowest price instead of leaving you to find the best deal on your own. All you have to do is configure the details of the vehicle you want, look at the average cost of your car based on your specs, review a free dealer’s cost report and then participate in a reverse-auction in which dealers place bids for you to buy your car from them. Unhaggle can send your vehicle request to the top ten auto dealers living in your region, who then submit their best offers for your car.
  • Carpages.ca Founded in 2004, Carpages.com is one of Canada’s fastest-growing online auto marketplaces. The site has a built-in quality control mechanism to block scammers – you have to be a government-registered dealer or an identity-verified individual to sell on Carpages. Geo-targeting technology brings the most relevant search results straight to you first, and the company has a mobile app designed for Androids, iPhones and iPads.
  • Kijiji Autos A spin off of the popular online market place, Kijiji Autos is an easy to use platform specifically designed for privately buying and selling vehicles. Kijiji Autos uses a CARFAX report based on your search inquiry to let you know if a seller’s price is good, fair, or poor. Their mobile app is also designed for both Andriods and Apples devices.

There are plenty of other websites geared to helping you buy a new or used car. Take your time browsing online offers so that you can find the best deal.

How to get an email quote from a dealership

If you want the ease of shopping online but still want to work with a dealership, you can email the sales team at multiple local dealerships for quotes. And if you’re already preapproved for a car loan, mention that as well. It can get the ball rolling on negotiations if you’re interested in financing through the dealership.

Your email doesn’t have to be extensive. Simply provide a little bit of information to get started:

  • The car you want along with its year, make and model
  • Any options or features you want included
  • A request for information about current incentives, rebates or lease deals
  • The date you plan on buying your car

One of the major benefits of email is the ease of communication. You can send one to each dealership you’re interested in — allowing you to quickly compare offers and find a deal with pursuing.

Online financing vs. dealership financing

Getting a loan through a dealership involves less work, but you typically get your funding in less time if you use an online company.

Benefits and drawbacks of each option

BenefitsDrawbacks
Online
  • Take your time. You can do your research at your own pace without the pressure of a dealership trying to get you to buy.
  • Compare prices. You can get pre-qualified or pre-approved for multiple offers on the same make and model. This saves time when compared to visiting multiple dealerships.
  • Avoid dealing with face-to-face hagglers. There’s less pressure negotiating online than if you have to face pushy salespeople in person.
  • It takes longer. Messaging back and forth with the seller to set a meeting time could take days or weeks.
  • No background checks. Online sellers may not be upfront about their car’s condition. Be proactive, and get a mechanic to look the car over and run a VIN check with a company like CARFAX to view the vehicle’s history.
  • Comparisons may not be accurate. It’s hard to tell what condition a car is in based on pictures and a short description.
Dealership
  • Extra features. Dealers often offer a wide range of extra features that you can instantly activate.
  • Quick answers. Car salespeople are experts in their business and can answer most of your questions immediately.
  • Dealership financing. Dealers often have a variety of financing options that you can apply for when you buy a car.
  • Overpriced and unnecessary options. Dealership extras can sometimes be unnecessary, and it may be a lot cheaper to get these extras elsewhere.
  • Limited time to compare. A salesperson wants to make a sale as quickly as possible. If you haven’t done your research ahead of time, you may feel pressured to make a decision before you’re ready.
  • Sneaky sales tactics. If you can’t handle sales tactics very well, you might walk away with something you don’t want.

Compare a range of car loans you can apply for online

Name Product Min. Loan Amount Interest Rate Loan Term Min. Credit Score Requirements
Car Loans Canada
$7,500
3.99% to 29.95%
12-84 months
300
Min. income of $2,000 /month, 3+ months employed
Search thousands of vehicles online, including $0 down options, from dealers across the country and get matched with affordable financing options. Auto loans are also available to those with bad credit, consumer proposals and bankruptcies to help rebuild credit.
CarsFast Car Loans
$500
4.90% to 29.90%
12-96 months
300
Min. income of $1,800 /month, 3+ months employed
Browse thousands of vehicles from dealers across Canada and get matched with financing that meets your needs. Apply online to purchase a new or used vehicle and get the vehicle delivered to your door.
Loans Canada Car Loans
$500
0% to 29.99%
3-96 months
300
Min. income of $1,800 /month, 3+ months employed
Get access to financing from multiple lenders across Canada through a single application with Loans Canada. Bad credit, CERB and EI borrowers are considered.
Coast Capital Car Loan
$10,000
Varies
18-84 months
650
Able to service debt payment of $300/month
Finance or lease both new and used vehicles with competitive rates and flexible terms from one of Canada's largest credit unions.
Canadian Auto News
$7,500
3.99% to 29.95%
12-84 months
300
Min. income of $2,000 /month, 3+ months employed
Answer a few simple questions to get matched with affordable financing options. Auto loans are also available to those with bad credit, consumer proposals and bankruptcies to help rebuild credit.
Canada Auto Finance
$500
4.90%-29.95%
3-96 months
300
Min. income of $1,500 /month, 3+ months employed
Canada Auto Finance is a broker that connects borrowers with partnered local lenders. Financing for a new or used car is available for borrowers with bad credit, no credit, CERB, EI or bankruptcy.
Carloans411 Car Loans
$500
1.90% to 19.99%
Up to 72 months
300
Min. income of $1,600 /month, 3+ months employed
Get connected with suitable lenders through CarLoans411. Finance your next car, van or truck with loans available in amounts from $500 to $50,000. Check eligibility for this loan through LoanConnect.
LoanConnect Car Loans
$500
9.90% to 46.96%
3-120 months
550
No min. income requirement
Get access to 25+ lenders through LoanConnect's brokerage. Receive pre-approval in as fast as 60 seconds and get your funds in as little as 24 hours.
Fairstone Secured Personal Loan
$5,000
19.99% to 23.99%
36-120 months
560
Established credit history and own your home
Fairstone offers secured personal loans up to $35,000.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

There are benefits to buying your car both online and at a dealership. In general, shopping online can help you get a great bargain, while visiting a dealership tends to benefit people who prefer an easy, straight forward process. A good tactic may be to use a combination of both online and in-person resources to get the most out of the 2 approaches and make sure you get the best deal.

Looking for a place to start? Check out our guide to car loans to equip yourself with the knowledge you need to get financing that will get you on the road faster.

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